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How Character Strengths Inform Authentic Leadership

By Faisal Khan
How Character Strengths Inform Authentic Leadership

Insights from Faisal Nadir Khan

This article includes insights Faisal Khan, CEO of 1ExtraordinaryLife shared in a recent conversation with VIA Institute on Character.

Authentic leadership is often characterized as an honest understanding of one’s strengths, weaknesses, core beliefs, values, and emotional responses. Through self-awareness, leaders evaluate their decisions and even their decision-making style in terms of their own values. This helps them seek support or delegate tasks in areas where they are less skilled. And by acknowledging their own shortcomings, authentic leaders imbue a culture of psychological safety by demonstrating that everyone is learning and developing.

In our recent conversation with Faisal Khan, he explained how character strengths catalyze self-awareness as a source of personal development and as genesis of authentic leadership. He references the work of Dr. Stewart Friedman, emeritus practice professor of management at The Wharton School whose Total Leadership method fosters individual integrity across all four domains of life: self, home, community, and work. Faisal’s insights stem from a discussion about how character strengths promote flourishing across all domains of life: at work, at home, in school, and across all key relationships. In the following section, Faisal explores how character strengths transcend these domains of life and facilitate authentic leadership by comparing and contrasting behaviors in each part of life.

“One of the key pillars of personal growth in all domains of life is self-awareness. That's a big thing for me as a coach, consultant, and trainer is to help people build self-awareness. Without knowing who you are and where you are, it is difficult for you to grow and achieve what you want and to measure your progress along the way.

When it comes to growth, positive psychology in many ways provides the language and the frameworks that allow people to grow in a structured fashion. What are those things? What is that language? This is where the scaffolding of character strengths comes into play.

This notion of who do I need to be and who am I being right now is the pivotal question. Then you ask: is there a gap between the two and then can I bring some intentionality to be a certain version of myself that’s called for in this moment. Self-awareness is the biggest facilitator of this capability in my view. And it is equally relevant across all domains of life.

Stewart Friedman at The Wharton School teaches a course called Total Leadership, which strengthens a leader’s wellbeing by creating harmony across all dimensions of life. And Friedman defines leadership as an alignment across four specific domains: self, home, community, and work. The self is explained as: how do you lead yourself and how do you observe your own decisions? That's one place where self-awareness is essential.

Next examine how you lead when you're with your family. How do you show up there in good times and in difficult moments? These are also components of leadership. And then consider how you lead when you're in community. Last, consider how you lead when you're at work. And his notion of Total Leadership asks us to imagine four circles signifying each of these four domains. The more overlap you have between them, the greater your personal integrity. And if you can form four concentric circles that are of the same size creating complete overlap, that enables a leader to act in a manner that is truly authentic.

Because now you don't have to be a different version of yourself in different domains of your life. And life suddenly becomes a lot easier because you are leading, the key word, your life in a coherent and authentic fashion. And I think that self-awareness allows us to develop in different these different domains.

That level of self-awareness empowers people to question if they need to stretch in a specific domain of their life to come closer to that concentric circle model where there's more of an overlap. As we continually form the overlap and work toward forming concentric circles, we become more authentic, regardless of which sphere of life we're operating in. That is fascinating. It feels a lot like integrity, too.”